Tips for better landscape photos – Part 2

This post is part 2 of Daniel Berman‘s landscape tutorial for mobile photography. Dan is a fine art photographer, filmmaker & digital artist with a specialty in landscapes, abstractions & people. He is the founder of the Mobile Photo Awards. With a background as a producer of music & nature programs for television, Daniel brings a lifelong passion for the imagery of the natural world to his photographic art. He lives in the scenic hills surrounding Milton, Ontario.

In our last post we discussed how to improve the landscape shots you take with your mobile phone. We touched upon when to shoot, what to shoot, and how to shoot. This week we are going to expand upon those ideas and talk a little bit about what iphone photo apps to try and how certain filters work. Also, we will check out what look for when deciding whether to process in Black and White or Color.

1. Apps: What App Did You Use?

Asking someone what apps they use, or what camera they have is a little like saying to a chef “…wow, that was delicious, what kind of oven do you have? And where do you get your knives?” The point being that a photo, much like a great meal, is the vision of the artist and using the same tools as someone else will never bring you their results. That said, there are certain methods you learn so that you are able to create images with logic and precision and not just with luck. To use another analogy, like a great golf swing, if you learn how certain apps work your results become planned and you’re not just hacking around hoping to hit it straight. Although, hole-in-ones are lucky no matter who hits them! Ok, enough comparisons, let’s check out some apps to try when processing your landscapes.

One of the beautiful things about creating images for yourself is that you are free to do anything you want. That is to say, if you’re creating images professionally for a client you must meet the needs they require. If you’re shooting a baseball game for a newspaper it’s not a good idea to make the sky yellow, the batter green and the rest of the field black and white. It might look cool but the photo editor, who is presumably looking for “reality,” isn’t likely to be pleased with your artistic touches. Likewise, when shooting a wedding the couple who have hired you probably don’t want to be autopainted and made to look like they’re in a Van Gogh image. Well, they might, but somebody’s Mother-in-Law might not so be careful if you try. But when you’re doing iPhoneography for yourself then do as you please. All this is to say that the notion of an image being “over-processed” is relative. If you’re the “client” then do whatever you want. You want a yellow sky? Go for it. One way to achieve that look is to use the cross-process filter in the app CAMERA+.

Cross processing was discovered in the 1960′s when certain types of film were developed using chemical solutions intended for a different type of film. The results are unnatural, with slightly surreal colors and high contrast. The results vary but often the whites in your image will become more yellow. So, if you shoot a pond on an overcast day and the picture is kind of blah, try calling up CAMERA+ and applying the cross process filter and watch your sky take on an appealing yellow character. For slightly different results try the cross process filter in other apps such as Iris Photo Suite, Tiffen PhotoFX and Cameramatic. Try combining retro effects with a cross processed look to achieve even more interesting effects and colors.

2. Monochrome: or When to Go Black & White

Why would we shoot landscapes in Black & White when color seems to be so much a part of what makes the natural world beautiful? Well, it’s been said that shooting people in color shows their clothes and shooting them in black & white shows their soul. The same idea applies to landscapes. There is something about a great monochrome landscape that really draws you in, in a way that color can not. The details and shadows take on a character of their own. Objects stand with power and dignity. The eye is drawn to the impact of the subject matter and not distracted by the interplay of colors. A quick look at an Ansel Adams print will confirm these ideas.

For me, black and white landscapes work best when there is a single subject as the centerpiece of the image. Try and look for a strong focal point, little details like a heavy contrast in textures, or shapes that jut against one another in silhouette. The best thing to do is experiment. I use the app NOIR on my iPhone to control the light and isolate part of the frame that most interests me. NOIR gives you a great deal of control over how the light and contrast are spread throughout the image. I also use FilterStorm to black out parts of an image to draw the eye to the central subject. Other apps to look at are MonoPhix, Dramatic B&W and even some of the “films” in Hipstamatic (although if you must use that app please crop out those awful frames!)

One of the great things about shooting with filters is that they allow the photographer to have more control with their aperture and shutter speed. Neutral density grad filters are my favorite because they let me “stop down” the sky and get a more even exposure between the top and bottom of the frame. Most likely, you’re not fitting your phone onto a tripod and attaching a matte box with $200 filters. No matter, that’s what apps are for! Let’s talk grads.

Graduated filters are ones that have a darker hue starting at the top of the frame and gradually become lighter until somewhere around the middle they turn clear. This lets you darken parts of an image so that more of your frame is exposed properly. The app PhotoFX by Tiffen has a whole range of grads you can apply in post. Have an ugly white sky? Snap a Grape colored grad on your image, adjust the opacity to your liking, move the position around a bit and voila´! A lovely sky! Now, you can then take that image and process it in other ways without having to think about whether you are going to be stuck with a less appealing top half of your frame. Experiment with different colored grads and even try stacking them upon one another to create a new palette of colors. The world is your oyster with a handful of grads on your phone!

I hope these suggestions have been helpful. Remember, the best way to learn anything is to do it!

Daniel Berman


Interview: Street Photographer Hai Nguyen @xxxyxyz

You’re travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight… but of some really mind-bending photography. Our guest this week is the very talented Hai Nguyen, otherwise known by his handle @xxxyxyz.  WARNING: Do not drive or operate heavy machinery after viewing these photos!

First, how did you come up with “xxxyxyz” as your online handle? Does it have any special meaning?

Life is hella she + he + it :)!

Ah, like “xx” is “male” and “xy” is female, making “xyz” the “it”… very clever! So, when you’re not doing photography, you are…

Listening to music, watching movies, hanging out with friends, sketching, sewing, making stuff, and always researching and seeking inspiration from all around me.

How did you originally get into photography? What was your first camera?

My first camera that I bought for myself was a Polaroid Spectra. I’m a big fan of instant photography. I’ve been taking photographs since I was young but I really didn’t get serious until I joined IG. The iphone is the only camera I use right now. The fact that I can take a photo, edit it, and post it, all in one device has helped me tremendously with my creative output?

How would you describe your style in three words?

Experimental, Surreal, Street.

If your portfolio had a soundtrack, it would be…

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees“. An album I listen to all the time while editing photos.

How many photos do you shoot on an average day?

When I was living in NYC I was constantly shooting on a daily basis. So my average was around 150-300 per day, and only 3% of that was actually okay. Most of those shots were just different angles of the same thing.  Nowadays, I shoot when I can which is about once a week, and I totally beast out and shoot like a hella lot!

What is a photo technique or rule that your regularly follow (or constantly break)

Honestly, I’m not really versed with photo rules or technique so I just shoot what truly speaks to me.

What’s the one iPhone photo app you can’t live without?

That’s so hard to just pick one, so I’ll say Camera+ and Filterstorm are my absolute tops!

What else is in your camera bag?

I’m a photo appaholic! I have tons of apps but here are the ones I use regularly: pictureshow, photofx, juxtaposer, blender, decim8, interlacer, cameramatic, lo-mob, scratchcam, ttv, touchretouch.

What aspects of photography are challenging for you?

Well, street photography is a challenge now, since I live in an area where pedestrian traffic is pretty much non-existent. My style has changed because of this so I’m continuously adapting.

Pick one of your favorites from your portfolio and tell us the backstory.

The photo from my NYC Love Stories series: Two of Hearts, a couple asleep on the subway, where the girl is seated with her legs over her boyfriend’s legs. I love this one because it was a simple shot. I didn’t have to do anything. It was all about the couple.  It was really late at night, and I was asleep when they came on the train.  I woke up and saw them seated across from me just like that.  I hesitated at first and didn’t want to intrude upon them, but the moment was just too damn sweet that I just went for the shot.  The expressions on their faces and their body positions were just sublime. It was just one of those lucky, magical, movie moments, of being in the right place at the right time and not hesitating to capture it all. And after I got my shot I went right back to sleep!

You shoot most of your photography in the SF Bay Area. If you could shoot any other locale in the world, where would it be, and why?

I shot extensively in NYC as well, which was crazy awesome for shooting people and architecture. But I really would like to try my hand at nature/landscape photography. It would be a new challenge for myself. I’m a city boy at heart but love the outdoors as well. The one place that I’m obsessed with and have never been is Mono Lake in California which looks like another planet in photographs I’ve seen.  Aside from that I’m dying to go to Singapore so that I can go photowalking with the great ABC @aikbengchia =)!!!

If someone told you, “I want to take photos like @xxxyxyz,” how would you respond? What tips would you give them if they wanted to emulate  your style?

I usually just shoot whatever makes my eyes pop and my heart leap. Currently though, I’m not able to do much street photography so a lot of my most recents photos are photo collages. With photo collages, I’m constantly keeping my eyes open and taking photos of things that I could use later during the editing process. I’m building a library of different images or “seeds” as I call it, which will become something else in a future photo. They can range from wall/ground textures, to graffiti, to wires, etc.  On days I can do street photography, I keep my eyes alert and iphone ready at all times so I don’t miss any memorable moments that I connect with.  And always experiment and try new things.

Any other secret talents we should know about?It took me a couple minutes to think about this one and I asked my friend and she point blank said if you can’t think of one then you don’t have any! Ouch!!!

Pick a favorite IG’er that you think deserves more notoriety from the IG community?

Definitely, people should check out @intao!!! Dreamy, moody, thought provoking masterpieces! He creates unique, and imaginative worlds that literally make me want to jump into them and never leave.

Thanks Hai! Be sure to check out Hai’s awesome album, soon to appear in the Keepsy Gallery.


Tips for better landscape photos with your mobile phone

This guest post was written by Daniel Berman aka @reservoir_dan on Instagram. Dan is a fine art photographer, filmmaker & digital artist with a specialty in landscapes, abstractions & people. He is the founder of the Mobile Photo Awards. With a background as a producer of music & nature programs for television, Daniel brings a lifelong passion for the imagery of the natural world to his photographic art. He lives in the scenic hills surrounding Milton, Ontario.

In many ways, landscapes are the hardest kind of photography to produce with a mobile phone. Most landscape shots taken with a DSLR have the advantage of filters, depth-of-field control and ultra-long exposure times. Mobiles have none of these advantages. Yet stunning images of the natural world are produced everyday by mobile photographers. Here is the first of a two part series of tips on how to improve your mobile landscape shots.

1. When to Shoot: Magic Hour

In landscape photography when you decide to shoot is as important as what you decide to shoot. Early in the morning and just prior to the evening sun going down are the landscape photographer’s favorite times of day. The light is softer and casts a glow upon the land that is fleeting, ethereal and, well, magic. Hence the term magic hour!

It’s also important to recognize that the type of light is as important as where the light is positioned. When lighting people, for example, we never would place a light directly over the head, we typically try and start by placing the light at a flattering 45 degree angle and then get creative from there. It’s the same thing for landscapes. When the sun is lower in the sky it sends light across the land instead of shining a harsh light directly upon it.

When you’re out in magic hour take a look around and notice how the light works, how it reflects upon the water or dapples behind the trees when it’s lower in the sky. Look to shoot directly into the sun sometimes but also use the sun as a sidelight – let the light come from your left or right and spray across a field. You’ll notice that the grass has more depth and character when the sun isn’t hitting it directly from behind. Beyond magic hour, look to shoot during a foggy morning or try and catch that mist in early spring after an afternoon rain just before the sun pops back out.

2. What to shoot: Vantage points.

With a DSLR, one has the advantage of using long shutter speeds and filters to make the clouds wispy or water have a silky sheen. Those techniques just aren’t possible with mobile phones. There is no control over shutter speed, iso, or aperture. You need to find things of interest because it’s harder to create things of interest with technique. Be willing to pull the car over and get that sunset on the side of the road! Trample through that farmer’s field to snap a shot of the statuesque tree after a summer day’s rain. Look for points of interest in the landscape like animals, a solitary tree in a field, or rain water in a puddle reflecting the sunset. Be creative and keep your eyes open!

3. How to shoot: Composition

Often, people forget to incorporate the whole scene into a shot. One little point of interest becomes even more so when juxtaposed against it’s natural background. So, a tiny duck in a pond can offer a sense of scale when seen next to a gazebo against a backdrop of trees. We sense the whole world of the duck, where he’s going and where he’s been. It tells more of a story if we can see a micro-environment instead of just the water and a duck.

Pay attention to the rule of thirds and use it with your horizon. Use the grid lines in your camera app to place your horizon on the top or bottom third and not in the middle. This directs the viewer’s eye to what is important in the composition. Is the main subject on the land? Then put the horizon closer to the top of the frame. Is the sky spectacular that day? Then give it more space in your shot.

You can break this rule when doing reflection shots. In that case, try placing the intersection of the land and the water closer to the middle to give the image a mirror-like sensibility.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment when Dan talks about color, black and white, and recommends some apps to use to improve your mobile landscape photography!

Oh and make sure to enter the Landscape category in the Mobile Photo Awards!

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, drop us a line at support (@) keepsy (dot) com!


iPhone Tutorial: Send your kid to Hogwarts

Some people have asked me how I edited this shot to make an innocent (well, maybe not *that* innocent) 4-yr old look like a recent graduate of Sorceress School, so here’s a quick tutorial:

You’ll need the following apps:

1) Camera+

2) LensLight

3) Optional: Your choice of photo editor with “Curves” adjustment (PhotoForge, Filterstorm, etc).

So, lets start with the image. First, you want your kid larger than life so they look like an imposing figure. You’re going to have to either get down on your knees and shoot from a low angle — or in my case find an object/pedestal for them to stand on.

Another tip – if you shoot with your subject facing away from you, you’ll leave your shot open to more of a menacing interpretation. The scariest monsters are always those we can’t see.

(A cloudy day is also nice for mood – but since you can’t control that – don’t worry about it.)

Now that you have the shot to work with, bring it into Camera+ or your favorite cropping tool to get it square ready for IG:

Next, apply the Clarity scene in Camera+. Normally I’m a bit reluctant to use this effect because it can take things over the top pretty quickly. But hey, that’s what we’re after in this shot, right?

Clarity really helps the clouds pop, and also brings out some surreal texture in the red cape. Delicious!

Next, let’s add the Red Scale effect to enhance the other-worldly aspect of the shot.

Look what that did to the shoes and the cape. Red, red and more red tones.Sweet – Our work is done here. Let’s save to our photo library and fire up our LensLight application.

LensLight’s interface is a bit wonky, so it takes some getting used to. It can be a bit tricky to pinch/spread and drag the effects to scale and position -but stick with it, and have patience and you’ll get the hang of it.

Let’s add the Lightning effect first. Rotate it into place using your thumb and index finger, and then scale it so that it connects your subject’s fingers to the target. (I left a touch of space between the fingers and the bolt – it just looked cooler to me)

Now let’s save and “Render (add light) which will keep the lightning on your edit.

Now, to make our lightning strike a target with some impact, let’s drop a “Sun” onto the canvas. Boom! To amp up the glow a bit more, we’ll “Render” again, and add the “Chroma ring” effect.

I would not want to be on the business-end of that bad boy!

Looking pretty good. Now we’re going to do some final touches to really bring it to life:

I’ve opened the shot in Photoforge, but FilterStorm and many other apps will allow you to do the following:

First, let’s take it up (or I guess “down”) a notch by adding some vignette. This is going to make our clouds more intense and also contrasty, as well as bring out the light that is beaming on the target.

Finally, open the settings (the slider bars on the far left, bottom) and select Curves from the menu. (Looks like a grid with an “s” on it.

Don’t let this thing intimidate you. (The Curves feature, I mean. You should be very intimidated by this red hooded creature). Tap the white line to add 2 points roughly where I have. Then drag the one further down the line a bit below the diagonal. You will notice that this brings dark tones down considerably without mucking with your mid-tones or blowing out your highlights of the lightning, etc.

And there you have it! FEAR THE 4-YR OLD :-)


The Sand Pit

I’m a huge fan of Tilt-Shift photography, so was really happy to stumble across this video of NYC by Sam O’Hare, The Sandpit.

The Sandpit from Sam O'Hare on Vimeo.


Instagram Calendars are here!

A couple of weeks ago we announced gift albums you can make for friends with photos from their Instagram feeds.

Now — just in time for the holidays — the Keepsy team is very excited to announce our newest product: Calendars!

If you thought making an album was easy, wait until you try calendars…

  • You can use photos from Instagram, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook or your computer.
  • Mix and match from different services.
  • You can arrange photos and text however you like.
  • Add custom dates and holidays for your country.
  • Calendars are printed on high-quality cardstock, and start at just $19.95 for 12 months.
  • Can you honestly think of a better gift for the Instagram fans in your life than custom books and calendars of your their photos? They’ll be thinking about you all year :-)

    So give it a try and let us know what you think!


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